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Myanmar blocks Twitter amid outrage at coup

February 5, 2021

The new ruling junta in Myanmar has blocked access to Twitter and Instagram, after users flocked there in response to the military pulling the plug on Facebook. A popular messaging app was also experiencing outages.

Twitter App Icon on a display with finger Social Network Social Media Mobile Phone
Authorities blocked access to Twitter as users migrated there following a bar on FacebookImage: imago-images/imagebroker/T. Jeager

Myanmar's new military rulers ordered service providers on Friday to obstruct user access to Twitter and Instagram until "further notice," according to Telenor Myanmar. The local branch of a Norway-based company is one of the main telecom providers in the South Asian country.

The move is the latest in a series of internet blocks to stifle dissent, only days after a coup that drew global condemnation

A spokeswoman for Twitter said the move "undermines the public conversation and the rights of people to make their voices heard." 

"We will continue to advocate to end destructive government-led shutdowns," she said.

Facebook was the first platform to be blocked, on Wednesday. The coup leaders shut down access to the platform, which counts half of Myanmar's 54 million population as users, until February 7.

Why is Twitter being targeted? 

By Thursday, internet users in Myanmar had flocked to Twitter where they unleashed a hashtag campaign against the military putsch. The Twitter outages began late on Friday at about 10 p.m. local time (1530 UTC/GMT).

"Twitter is now being restricted in #Myanmar on multiple network providers," said the monitor group NetBlocks, which tracks internet outages around the world.

NetBlocks also said the Facebook products Whatsapp and Instagram were also facing disruptions.

Telenor Myanmar said it was "gravely concerned" by the bans on Twitter and Instagram.

The provider "has challenged the necessity and proportionality of the directive... and highlighted the directive's contradiction with international human rights law," they said in a statement. 

Why does the junta seem so concerned?

Anti-coup activist Thinza Shunlei Yi urged the setting up of a free VPN service so users could circumvent the restrictions.

"We have digital power... so we've been using this since day one to oppose the military junta," Shunlei Yi was reported as saying.

The "Civil Disobedience Movement" has gathered pace online, with the public urged to show their anger at the coup each night by banging pots and cymbals. Police have arrested individuals involved in such protests.

The AFP news agency said it had seen an unverified Ministry of Transport and Communications document. The correspondence claimed that Twitter and Instagram were used to "spread incitement and false news... causing misunderstanding among the public."

What's been happening on the ground?

The de facto leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, was detained on Monday and ousted from power as the army declared a state of emergency. The country found itself returned to military rule after a 10-year flirtation with democracy. 

A representative for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy said she was being held at her home in Naypyidaw, the country's capital. Suu Kyi was said to be "in good health."

A key figure in Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, Win Htein, was arrested in the early hours of Friday morning. 

Teachers and students in Myanmar have rallied against the coup. Friday saw hundreds protest at a Myanmar university. It appeared to be the largest show of public dissent within the country since the coup.

Protesters at two universities in Yangon flashed a three-fingered salute, a sign of resistance originally adopted from "The Hunger Games" movies by anti-government protesters in neighboring Thailand.

Myanmar was under military rule for five decades after a 1962 coup. While Suu Kyi's five years as the nation's effective leader have represented a brief period of relative democracy, the country's authorities have continued to apply repressive colonial-era laws and engage in ethnic conflict.

rc/dj (Reuters, AFP)